Distinguishing Membership in a Professional Organization from a Professional Credential

Ron Lieber's recent "Your Money" column made a good point about the difference between a "credential" and a membership in a professional organization.  Lieber's point concerned members of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors but it could relate to any of the thousands of professional organizations that exist.  As Lieber put it:

  • "Being a member of Napfa is not a credential.  Napfa is a membership organization."

Later, Lieber writes:

  • "Credentials, instead, are things like the certified financial planner designation, which requires those who have it to pass a difficult exam.  A certified public accountant counts here, too, as does a chartered financial analyst.  You can't just pay to have these letters after your name; you have to earn them."

From a public records perspective, the application, test results and a copy of any certification materials should be public and attainable for vetting purposes no matter what profession you are researching.  The absence of these public records is what Lieber would describe as the absence of a "credential," a factor which should be noted in any vet, as well.